THE spur-winged plover, Vanellus miles, has a distribution that extends from New Guinea along the east coast of Australia to New Zealand.
The wader self introduced to New Zealand in the 1930s, and has expanded its range in Australia as well as New Zealand over the last few decades.
Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace suggested the current distribution and abundance of plant and animal species is a consequence of evolution rather than Divine intervention. Consequent to this is the idea that distributions will change, they are not constant.
While the theory of evolution by natural selection is now accepted by the mainstream as a best explanation for the diversity of life on planet Earth, the very recent preoccupation with temperature and in particular the idea that small changes in temperature may result in the extinction of particular species, does not sit well with their theories on the distribution of the many species with a very broad geographic range; like the spur-winged plover.
Darwin and Wallace formed their ideas independently and during a time when there was much interest in the careful collection and recording of life in previously unexplored places.
The interest in places beyond Europe also resulted in a realisation that while photoperiod and cold winters may be key drivers of the distribution and abundance of species in the northern hemisphere, in places like Australia predation, competition, rainfall and changes in land-use can be much more important.
Notes and Links
The photograph of the spur-winged plover was taken on Great Keppel Island by Jennifer Marohasy. This is part 2 of a new series on the distribution and abundance of species – and temperature gradients. ‘Rainbow Lorikeets and Temperature Gradients’ (Part 1) is here:
There are two distinct races which until recently were thought to be separate species. The Masked Lapwing of Northern Australia (Vanellus miles miles) has an all-white neck and large yellow wattles, the Spur-winged Plover of the southern and eastern states (Vanellus miles novaehollandiae) has a black neck-stripe and smaller wattles. (Note that the northern hemisphere Spur-winged Plover is a different bird.) http://www.birdforum.net/opus/Vanellus_miles#Distribution
Cases are known where shorebirds extensively feed on offal from McDonalds fast food outlets, widely found in many shorebird wintering sites, and species have changed their wintering sites for that very reason. Masked lapwings Vanellus miles, black-winged stilts Himantopus himantopus and South Island pied oystercatchers Haematopus finschi in New Zealand are presumably expanding because pasturalism has created a much larger breeding habitat for them—but, on the other hand, the resultant damage to braided river systems has resulted in severe declines in species specialized to breed in them (e.g. black stilt Himantopus novaezelandiae, black-fronted tern Sterna albostriata) http://www.int-res.com/articles/esr2006/2/n002p089.pdf
COMMON NAMES: Masked Lapwing, Masked Plover, Spur-winged Plover; German Maskenkiebitz. GLOBAL DISTRIBUTION: NATIVE Australia, n. to New Guinea, s. to NZ, east to Lord Howe. First breeding pair in NZ was in 1932 at Invercargill; reached North Island in 1970. COOK ISLANDS STATUS: Native, Vagrant, Non-breeder; S.Group – rare (RR, AK, ?); Land, Wet grasslands. http://cookislands.bishopmuseum.org/species.asp?id=13467
Spatial and temporal variation in the breeding of Masked Lapwings (Vanellus miles) in Australia. Lynda E. Chambers A , D , Heather Gibbs B , Michael A. Weston B , C and Glenn C. Ehmke C . Abstract: Spatial and temporal variation in the breeding of Masked Lapwings (Vanellus miles) in Australia were examined using data from Birds Australia’s Nest Record Scheme (NRS; 1957–2002), the Atlas of Australian Birds (1998–2006), and climatic data (1952–2006). Breeding in north-western Australia was concentrated in summer, while in other regions the peak of breeding occurred during spring. Breeding success varied between regions and years but was generally highest in Tasmania. Clutch-size (mean 3.57 eggs ± 0.033 s.e., n = 549 clutches) did not vary regionally or temporally. In the north-east, breeding became earlier over time (~1.9 days per year, NRS), while in the south-east, breeding became later (~0.9 days per year); in other regions temporal trends were not evident. Only Tasmania showed a significant temporal change in breeding success (decrease of ~1.5% per year). All regions experienced warming climates, and annual rainfall increased in north-western regions and decreased in eastern regions. There were weak or no relationships between the amount or success of breeding, clutch-size and the climatic variables considered (with the possible exception of Tasmania), suggesting either that data limitations precluded us from detecting subtle effects or that Masked Lapwings have been little influenced or are resilient to changes in climate over most of their range. http://elibrary.unm.edu/sora/IWSGB/v100/p00105-p00110.pdf
Australian biota has been isolated from other parts of the globe for a long time and, in conjunction with historical climate, this has resulted in fairly unique flora and fauna (Dunlop and Brown, 2008). Australian winters are generally mild, the country is relatively dry (~50% of the country receiving less than 300 mm per year and ~90% less than 800 mm), and considerable rainfall variability results in highly variable river flows (Crowder, 2000; Dunlop and Brown, 2008). As a result, Australian species may have a greater variety of responses to environmental variation than northern hemisphere species, where photoperiod and cold winter temperatures are the primary phenological drivers (e.g. Menzel, 2003; Dingle, 2008).